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Why the NHL Decided to Open Up More Sponsorship Inventory on the Ice

The league spent 3+ years discussing and planning before deciding to go forward with the initiative.

Adam White

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TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 28: Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks skates to the net with the puck during the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game between the Atlantic Division and the Pacific Divison at Amalie Arena on January 28, 2018 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Like any good league, finding ways to bring value to both sponsors and the clubs keeps all parties happy and engaged.

For the National Hockey League, opening up four new in-ice spots starting during the 2018-2019 season was about giving clubs the opportunity to find new camera-visible signage and bringing what the league expects to be a “mid-seven-figure per position opportunity for the NHL during the playoffs.”

“It has always been an area that I am interested in developing. Not to only add more logos, but to deliver more value to our current and potential future sponsors,” said Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s Chief Revenue Officer. “If you look at our partnerships at the club level and what our league partners like when it comes to a league-wide event, in-ice positions are generally your largest partners at the club level that garner a significant amount of television impressions.”

What Wachtel sees as the most unique selling point for these particular positions is the opportunity sponsors will have to be a part of the biggest moments of the game as well as the highlights shared across the NHL’s digital platforms and social media channels.

“When we looked at it and considered other signage opportunities, which there are a lot of others that we have explored and that we continue to explore, we know that those four are extremely valuable. If you think about the way the game is played, most of the action that is comprised of goals, big hits, and saves are done in the corners as opposed to necessarily center ice. All of the various instant replays you will see in games but also across social media and highlight packages generally show a goal, a save, or a big hit.”

The league began testing the inventory this past pre-season in China and then followed up that test with placement at this year’s All-Star Game after what had been a three-year dialogue surrounding the initiative.

“We tested them in China during several pre-season games. Then we moved to the All-Star Game which really allowed us to take a look at them on an NHL rink in front of broadcasters, sponsors, clubs, league executives, and fans,” said Wachtel. “Ultimately, we came to the unanimous decision that we would go ahead and install those for the start of next season.”

Mercedes-Benz Arena on September 21, 2017 in Shanghai, China.

Relying on services like Nielsen Sports and GumGum Sports, the league was able to figure out the amount of time each position would be visible during a broadcast. For the teams that wanted to, many conducted their own analysis given that their broadcast angles might be slightly different than others.

Based on those valuations and what the market will bear is how Wachtel and his team see the inventory being sold, a process that the league will help with but will ultimately come down to how each team will decide to package them.

“How they will sell them is going to be unique to each club. They will most likely package them into broader sponsorship deals, because they are not necessarily interested in selling a brand that position without that brand already being a team partner.”

Unlike the four center ice placements, the league will take over control of the corner inventory come playoff time in order to sell a package that will span across every game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs through the Stanley Cup Final.

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“I look at this differently for us,” said Wachtel. “It doesn’t matter who is in the playoffs and that is the issue with the clubs, you don’t know who is going to make the playoffs so the clubs can’t monetize the playoffs the same way that the league could.”

Although we are still close to a month from a team raising Lord Stanley’s Cup above their head, Watchel and his team are already in the marketplace selling the inventory for next year’s playoffs. The exposure potential and exclusivity of the placements are features that Wachtel sees as a differentiator for the league when it comes to working with global brands.

The league tested the inventory at the All-Star Game this year. (Photo via NHL)

“Right now, we are in the marketplace talking about next year’s playoffs, selling anywhere from two to four marketers and those marketers will be at every game, every night, for every playoff game around the world. Because of that, our primary focus is to sell these to global marketers. We want a marketer that values not only the North American exposure, but also the exposure that we provide in all countries throughout Europe, Australia, and China. We have over 160 countries that broadcast NHL games, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

Seeing that this is the first time the league has added new in-ice inventory since the original four at center ice, the question then becomes where the league goes from here and whether or not patches on sweaters may be next. A topic Wachtel was quick to dismiss given what he believes the impact the new corner inventory will have.

“If you think about it, right now teams in the NBA are selling jersey patches. It’s a great idea and they are making a lot of money from those patches. We aren’t ready to do that yet. We are still exploring it. We think our sweaters are different than that of other sports franchises. We also are looking for what we think would be a bigger impact.”

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Sponsorship

How an Arena Redecoration Led the Belleville Senators to Launch a Creative Sponsorship Activation

Over the offseason, the AHL’s Belleville Senators launched a project to improve fan experience in the arena, which led to a creative redesign.

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Belleville Senators - Hockey - Sports

Daniela Passarelli, the marketing coordinator for the Belleville Senators, typically works to execute the team’s marketing strategy, managing how single-game and special-ticket packages and events are promoted across the market.

Heading into this past offseason, she was assigned to work on a different type of project – an arena redecoration.

After Belleville finished its first year with professional hockey, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators was looking for a way to start its second season off with something fresh. Primarily empty walls that appeared like a blank canvas in the team’s newly renamed CAA Arena presented the perfect opportunity for the Senators to build something of their own.

The goal, according to Passarelli, was to “improve the arena to give fans a better experience when they came back for year two.”

As the front office brainstormed different ways to fill the space, the operations team proposed the idea of converting the arena’s highest level into a bar scene, inspiring the partnership marketing group to loop in Molson Canadian, the Senators’ beer sponsor and founding partner.

From there, Passarelli and the marketing team got to work.

“As part of beautifying and branding our arena, I really loved the concept of stair-riser graphics and wanted to see that incorporated somehow. I saw them in other areas and sports venues and thought it would be awesome to get them installed here,” said Passarelli.

Her vision aligned with that of the Senators’ director of operations and COO, something that helped fuel the project. Passarelli’s graphic design experience — something she’d honed while creating visuals for ticketing and promotional campaigns, in-game content, merchandise or partnership marketing projects — prepared her for the project.

READ MORE: Blackhawks Partner with Business Operations ‘Incubator’ 

With Passarelli acting as “the guardian of the brand,” and working with the same company that designed and wrapped Molson’s suite, the Senators brought the idea to life.

Over the summer, the blank canvas on the upper level was completely transformed into a Molson’s bar equipped with a branded staircase and wrapped beverage carts showcasing the company’s logo.  

While the lead-up to the project took time to plan, once the vision was in place, the redesign was executed in just a day or two. This was helped by the fact that the team worked with the same company that wrapped Molson’s suite, so it was “a fairly seamless process.”

According to Passarelli, “They understood the concept and direction quite well and were able to install in a quick turnaround.”

The reaction to the project has been overwhelmingly positive — so positive, that the Senators wrapped another set of stairs this past week.

By thinking outside the box and creating a unique activation opportunity for Molson, the Senators have certainly accomplished their offseason goal.  

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Sponsorship

Why Bridgestone Became a Worldwide Paralympic Partner

The rubber and auto parts manufacturing giant is now the IPC’s seventh Worldwide Paralympic Partner.

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Bridgestone - Sports

Bridgestone announced in October that it had teamed up with the International Paralympic Committee as a Worldwide Paralympic Partner, the IPC’s highest tier of partnership.

With the new agreement in place until 2024, the company will receive global rights in categories that include tires, tire services, and selected automotive vehicle services, self-propelled bicycles, seismic isolation bearings, and a variety of building and industrial products.

To dive deeper into this new relationship, Bridgestone will also be helping out athletes for the upcoming 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo with new equipment and expertise in the area of tires and rubber. This includes new rubber soles for prosthetics and rubber grips for gloves, bicycles, and other technical support for Paralympic athletes competing in wheelchair or cycling events.

When presented with an opportunity to support the incredible athletes all over the world who compete in the Paralympics, Bridgestone leadership admitted it was an easy decision.

SEE MORE: The Importance of Useable Data for Colorado State Athletics 

“We are incredibly proud to support Para athletes everywhere on their journey to overcome adversity and persevere in pursuit of their dreams. Their passion and determination truly embody the ‘Chase Your Dream’ message that Bridgestone is bringing to life through our Olympic and Paralympic activities,” stated Amber Holm, vice president of consumer and customer engagement, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.

“At an even deeper level, Bridgestone was founded on core values of service and diversity, and our global ‘Our Way to Serve’ social responsibility commitment is focused on improving the way people move, live, work and play. These efforts are reflected in the ideals of the International Paralympic Committee and its mission to create a more inclusive society through Para sport.”

Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, echoed this sentiment.

“We are absolutely delighted that Bridgestone will become the IPC’s seventh Worldwide Paralympic Partner and believe the company’s ‘Chase Your Dream’ message enjoys perfect synergy with the aspirations of the Paralympic Movement and the IPC,” he said.

“Part of the IPC’s vision relates to Para athletes achieving sporting excellence and affecting people with a disability chasing their dreams through Para sport at all levels of competition. By working together, I hope we can empower even more people around the world to chase their own dreams.”

SEE MORE: VERT Looks to Real-Time Data to Provide More Engaging Fan Experience

Bridgestone also is a Worldwide Olympic Partner through 2024. Sports fans can also see their Bridgestone adverts and sponsorships all throughout the world of golf, the NFL, the NHL, and auto racing.

This dates back to Bridgestone’s Firestone brand being a part of the first Indy 500 in 1911. Look for the company to continue to be a big part of the sports and sporting goods worlds moving forward.

“We are always looking for new and diverse ways to educate consumers about tires and our high-performing products, and sports continue to provide a natural connection point for those interactions,” added Holm. “Each of our sports partnerships is a strategic investment designed to drive Bridgestone and our business forward, so we are continuously evaluating our portfolio to maximize the impact each partnership can make at both a global and regional level.”

The 2020 Paralympics are set to begin on August 25, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Look for a number of Paralympic athletes to make use of Bridgestone gear, including eight Bridgestone employees who hope to qualify sometime in the next year.

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Texas Legends Personal Approach to Partnerships Paying Off

The Legends have found that simple things like networking events are an easy way to add value to its partners and keep them retained.

Adam White

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Texas Legends - Texas - G League

Photo via @TexasLegends

The name of the team may not jump off the page, but the Texas Legends’ partnership strategy sure will catch your attention.

The team, based in Frisco, is the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. Playing in one of the most crowded metropolitan sports markets in the country, the Legends know that while their broad reach might not be as large as the Cowboys and the Mavericks or the Stars and Rangers, their local reach is exceedingly impactful.

And for the last few years, they have been leaning into that.

Britney Wynn, VP of media relations for the team, credits the G League and the flexibility provided to its member teams.

“The biggest difference on the partnership side between the NBA and the G League is the flexibility we have when it comes to being more creative. We don’t really have set partnerships or levels because everything we do is as custom as possible for the partner we are working with.”

This type of flexibility has led to the team having a different jersey for every home game and even one of their partners building a practice court for them.

“I can honestly tell you that this works better than anything else we do. These networking events get you clients. If you to host a networking event, they will come.” – Britney Wynn on what she tells other G League teams when it comes to successful partner strategies.

One of her favorite activations this year is the evolution of the team’s partnership with Legacy Plumbing. The local Frisco plumbing company was looking to change it up after four years of running a similar promotion. With the goal of the new activation having more of an impact on the community, Wynn and Legacy came up with what they called the “Mission of the Month.”

READ MORE: Why Delta Private Jets Signed With MSG as a Suites Partner

“Mission of the Month” is an extension of Legacy’s own internal program, except in this situation, the Legends have used their platform to expand the collection of items that will go to different charities to the three networking events they have every month for their premium clients.

Not only have the aforementioned networking events become an opportunity for partners like Legacy to activate, but they have also become a fundamental part of what the Legends can offer that is different from other teams in the area and an example of the culture that owner Donnie Nelson has built around the team.

“Donnie brought the team to Frisco to honor the true legends in the community (hence the name). Whether it was on the philanthropic side or on the business development side, he wanted to use the team solely for giving back purposes.”

Instead of just being a place where partners can activate, Wynn and the team at the Legends have turned the team into a conduit not only for positive social change, but positive business change — all at a price that is the most reasonable in the area and in an experience that is family friendly.

“The whole mindset behind the game is to make it somewhere where people can come and do business in a way you can’t find anywhere else. A lot of our smaller partnerships come in because we’re affordable and we’re family friendly. They will bring their kids and their clients will bring their kids; because of the kid zones on either end of the court, they will be able to talk business while the kids are playing.”

This mindset has spilled over to the networking events, such as a three-times-a-month program the Legends have set up for premium clients that will see them host a breakfast and a lunch at the arena and a happy hour at a partner’s restaurant or location.

They have even built out an executive event series that brings together high ranking executives from their partners in unique ways once a quarter. Their last event was held at a partner’s Mercedes-Benz dealership and was aptly called “Cigars and Cars.”

As for retention rate because of the approach, Wynn said: “I don’t know the exact percentage, but it is pretty high.”

While these initiatives may be hard work for the Legends staff, the events are cost-effective additions to packages that end up being a win-win for everyone involved.

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